Sunday, January 12, 2020

It's Not Just America

QualitylandQualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Qualityland is both a good scifi story and an extended joke. The author takes the everyday situation of receiving something you didn't order and don't want through the typical absurdities. In the process he shows society has gone beyond the Peter Principle and Murphy's Law into Peter's Problem. With its near-future setting, it reads like a cross between Douglas Adams and a Monty Python script. 
In Peter's country, Qualityland, everything is great. The status quo is always great, even if it changes often. Algorithms decide everything, from jobs to relationships to diet to social status. It's all so great. And most things are automatic. In fact, TheShop sends you things before you know you want them, and charges you accordingly.  One day Peter receives something from TheShop that he absolutely does NOT want, and he attempts to return it. But that calls Qualityland's greatness into question, being not so great. Bureaucracy and frustration ensue. 
It's a satire of modernity bringing to mind Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” from the 18th century and Karel Capek’s play "RUR" from the early 20th; it's a cri de couer for the everyman of the 21st Century—all without preaching. The most interesting and gratifying thing about the book is that, like those other literary works, this is not about America. It's a scathing indictment of (insert name of “First World” country here). We're all alike. Kling skewers capitalism, colonialism, tribalism and most other -isms out there with an even touch, highlighting human foibles. We really are all alike.
The translation has given just the right touch of exasperation to elicit humor over tragedy as Peter tries to assert his individuality in a world gone mad with conformity and consumption, and the end result is thoughtful laughter (or facepalm) instead of tears. Highly recommended.

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